Kungri and Ki Gompas: My first visit to a Tibetan Monastery
Lahaul and Spiti are known for their monasteries, locally called ‘Gompas’, which are great repositories of Buddhist faith and art treasures. Some of the interesting features of the flag-bedecked gompas are the huge barrel-like prayer drums, which revolve at slight touch. The ‘lamas’ rotate them during meditation. There are also ornate paintings of gods and demons.
I had never been to a monastery before, and hence was very curious and eager to see one. We had breakfast, and were soon on our way towards the Kungri Gompa in the Pin Valley. There was a bridge where we crossed the Spiti River and went from Spiti to Pin Valley. This ride was the first ride in which we saw a substantial part of the Spiti Valley. The rocky mountain landscape easily helped one visualize how seismological activity had created the Himalayas. The colossal size of the mountains on both sides of the Spiti River made all the mountains I had seen earlier in my life seem like dwarfs.
The bridge connecting the Spiti and Pin valleys…
We crossed the Spiti River and entered the Pin Valley. The Pin valley is the abode of the snow leopard and the Siberian Ibex. One can spot hordes of Ibex in the higher reaches of the valley, but we were not planning to go that far.
The images above show the meeting points of the Spiti and Pin valley mountains
Kungri gompa was built in the year 1330 AD. The entrance to the gompa was very short, so one had to kneel in order to go inside. The only light inside was a lamp in front of the Buddha’s main figure. Other areas of the gompa were thus in almost total darkness. In the dim light, we roamed around and could discern fresco paintings on the walls.
These images show the entrance, interiors, manuscripts, idols, and frescoes of the Kungri Gompa. Ironically, we couldn’t see these clearly when we were inside. We saw these in detail only after we developed these images!
We returned to Kaza, had lunch, and went the other way to the Ki monastery. This is the biggest monastery in Spiti valley, and is situated between Kaza and Kibber, on a hilltop. Further on that route is Kibber, the highest inhabited village in the world, where in spite of vagaries of nature and drops of temperature below -35 C, people are still surviving. As soon as we began approaching it, the hilltop was an immensely breathtaking sight. At an altitude of 13,500 ft, a huge hill topped with houses on all sides, right up to the top! We could not imagine how they had constructed these houses on the hillside.
The Ki monastery was founded in between 1008 AD and 1064 AD. The monastery is famous for its Thankas (paintings on cloth with wonderful compositions of geometrical arrangements) and musical instruments. There are two trumpets, which are three meters in length! This gompa was better lighted hence we could see the artistic treasures much better. They had permitted photography inside, and I could catch good pictures of fascinating artistic treasures.
We returned to Kaza for dinner and had Lugri (Chhang in local language), the local alcoholic drink. It is made with buttermilk and almost tastes the same, hence was very appealing to a buttermilk fan like me. It was a relief to spend a normal day for a change — a relaxed, planned day, with no unexpected surprises, unwanted adventures, or disasters!